The tantalising possibilities in team matches that are often missing in individual tournaments were in evidence in the second session of the TOTAL BWF Thomas & Uber Cup Finals 2016.
Riding high on the elixir of team spirit, Frenchman Thomas Rouxel (featured image), ranked a modest 69 to Japanese opponent Sho Sasaki’s 27, nearly sent a shockwave into the defending champions’ midst in their Thomas Cup Group C. Rouxel recovered from a first game whipping to hold two match points in the third, but Sasaki scrambled to hold him off and prevent a first blow. Japan eventually made it past France 5-0.
“After the easy first game, I relaxed a bit and then as he caught up, I increasingly got nervous,” said a relieved Sasaki.
The thrilling 21-6 17-21 23-21 victory for Sasaki proved to be of great value, for the French had their chances against the Japanese in the Men’s Doubles that followed. Ronan Labar and Baptiste Careme slugged it out on equal terms with the higher-ranked Hiroyuki Endo/Kenichi Hayakawa before falling 21-18 25-23.
Once the two matches were sewn up, Japan stepped on the gas, and shot past the French. Takuma Ueda made it 3-0 with a quick 21-7 21-8 result over Lucas Claerbout. Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda (2nd doubles) and Riichi Takeshita (3rd singles) ensured the Japanese finished the day with their reputation intact.
Hints of an upset also hovered about in a Uber Cup Group A match between China and Malaysia. Malaysia Open champions Tang Yuanting/Yu Yang were in deep trouble against Vivian Hoo/Woon Khe Wei; the Malaysians were cruising at 18-11 in the third when their challenge inexplicably melted. With the Chinese gaining on them, Hoo and Woon turned leaden-footed, enabling the crowd favourites to get several easy winners. Ten straight points went by in a flash and the Malaysians found themselves 0-2 down, Tee Jing Yi having lost the opening singles to Li Xuerui.
It was the turn of World Junior champion Goh Jin Wei to go up against the in-form Asian champion Wang Yihan; Goh – still only 16 years old – gave an excellent account of herself before falling 21-16 21-14. The Malaysian teen read the game well and was frequently in the right place; Wang had the bigger weapons, however, and ensured a 3-0 lead for China.
China’s men were also in action, brushing aside Mexico 5-0 (Thomas Cup Group A), while Chinese Taipei dealt the same treatment to Mauritius (Uber Cup Group B).
Mexico were defeated but not disgraced. Although the Chinese were superior on every count, the Mexicans showed their skills and stayed in the rallies, coming away thrilled despite being unable to win a game in five matches. Lino Munoz, Job Castillo and Ramon Garrido in the singles, and Castillo/Munoz and Andres Lopez/Garrido in the doubles did come away with their pride intact.
“It’s a great feeling to be here and play China in China,” said Job Castillo, who lost the second singles to Tian Houwei, 21-7 21-12. “It was a big thing for us to win the Pan Am qualifiers; this is the first time Mexico has qualified to the Thomas Cup Finals. We had a very good preparatory camp before coming here. The Chinese are so fast. We learnt a lot.”
Group A: China bt Mexico 5-0; Group A: Japan bt France 5-0
Group A: China bt Malaysia 5-0; Group B: Chinese Taipei bt Mauritius 5-0